Puerto Rican Officials Ask FCC For Broadband Help

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The governor of Puerto Rico and other officials there have asked the Federal Communications Commission to reverse a decision they say will leave the territory without sufficient access to broadband for too long.

While Governor Luis Fortuno said he understood the FCC had said it preferred dealing with the issue as part of general overall Universal Service Fund reform, he said that would be a multi-year process and that Puerto Rico has already waited too long to get comparable service to the U.S.

He asked that the commission reconsider the request of the Puerto Rico Telephone Company for a separate fund and its promise to use it for broadband. He also wants the FCC to create a Puerto Rico broadband pilot program and consider designating staff to deal specifically with Puerto Rico broadband issues.

Also asking the FCC to reconsider, according to letters supplied by the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council, were its congressional representative and the president of its telecommunications regulatory board.

In April, the commission decided not to establish a separate universal service fund for "insular areas." (Puerto Rico is defined as a non-rural insular area). The FCC concluded that current high-cost fund support for Puerto Rico had been sufficiently increased -- by 54% between 1998 and 2008 -- that it was not necessary to create a new fund.

But the FCC's decision dealt with a fund for phone service -- specifically the PRTC request -- and one of the reasons it said it was ruling against the separate fund was its recommendation in the National Broadband Plan to transition the high-cost fund from phone to broadband.

It suggested that an upcoming rulemaking on the universal service fund remake would be a more appropriate venue to address issues of broadband deployment. "The Commission will release a notice of proposed rulemaking later this year that will address the high-cost universal service recommendations of the National Broadband Plan," it said in the order declining to create the fund. "We encourage parties with information about any unique cost characteristics of providing broadband service in insular areas, such as Puerto Rico, to participate in these forthcoming proceedings and submit any relevant data."

The commission said that in the interim, "If PRTC were to receive additional support for voice service pursuant its proposed non-rural insular mechanism, it likely would be more difficult to transition that support to focus on areas unserved or underserved by broadband."

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